The Albany Herald
ALBANY — Nancy Lopez lifted her tee shot over a small pond on the 11th hole at Doublegate Country Club on Friday afternoon and watched as the ball rolled up the green and nestled on the back fringe.
The drive was nothing to shout about for the LPGA Hall of Famer, who hosted the 27th annual Nancy Lopez Hospice Golf Classic and teed off with each of the 152 players that took part in the tournament.
But it was the shot of the day for David Guillebeau.
“It’s the highlight of my day to stand there with a Hall of Fame golfer,” said Guillebeau, 52, an Albany native who shared the shot with his three playing partners — a moment that each of the golfers got to experience as they stepped up to the 11th tee. “(Lopez) wants to give back to Albany, and that’s a credit to her. I am thankful for everything she does.”
That was the feeling around Doublegate on Friday as Lopez and a trio of other professional golfers took part in the annual tournament, which raises money for Albany Community Hospice and was instrumental in funding the recent construction of Albany’s Willson Hospice House.
Lopez, a former Albany resident and three-time major champion, says it’s a tournament she looks forward to every year.
“As the years have gone on with this tournament, and from where we started, it has put a lot of money into the (Willson) Hospice House,” Lopez said.
“I tell the people out here that they need to go see it, because they need to realize that they helped build that beautiful place, too. They help bring happiness to people in the last few days of their life.”
The tournament, which raised around $150,000 last year, is expected to bring in about the same revenue this year, said Mandy Davis, the event coordinator for the tournament.
“The players love to go out and play with Nancy and the other LPGA players and interact with them,” Davis said. “A lot of these players come back year after year, so they already know Nancy and like to come and catch up. This tournament is very popular, and people enjoy playing in it year after year. We are fortunate that people want to be a part of this event.”
Lopez was joined at the tournament by fellow former pro golfer and close friend Kim Bauer, LPGA rookie Lacey Agnew and former Tennessee star golfer and pro Ginny Brown, who stationed themselves around the course and participated by hitting shots with the players on various holes.
Albany native Hill Gillespie — who, like his playing partner Guillebeau, watched family members spend their last days in hospice — has participated in the tournament off-and-on since it started in 1986.
“Until you go out there (to Willson Hospice House) you really don’t know what it is like,” said Gillespie, 62. “I hadn’t been out there until my mother was there, and I was in awe.”
They are the type of stories that keep bringing Lopez back to Albany, even though she currently lives in Auburn, Ala., to be closer to her youngest daughter, Torri.
“I know when I lived here and (ex-husband and World Series MVP Ray Knight’s) mom and dad passed away, we didn’t get special treatment because of who we were. The hospice workers treat everybody special,” Lopez said. “When I first started working with hospice, people would walk up to me in the grocery store and say thank you for what I do with hospice because it’s touched their lives. When you know something is really touching people’s lives, it’s really fun to come out here and support it and be a part of it.”
It’s a tournament that has turned into a passion for Lopez, who enjoys spending the morning and afternoon on the 11th hole to catch up with individuals who have made the tournament a tradition — even if stepping on a tee box with a Hall of Famer can be a little nerve rattling.
“All of the years that they have known me, they are still nervous standing there on the tee box,” Lopez said with a laugh. “But I know what that is like, because when I was an amateur and played with a professional I was nervous. I understand the feeling.”